We toured colleges with our son last spring. In every tour, in every talk, we heard a similar spiel: “We want to get to know you — get a sense of who you are. The best applicants are the ones where students are themselves.”
I hate to be cynical, but all the “just be you” enthusiasm made me skeptical since most of these schools admit like 5 new students a year. Statistically, it doesn’t seem like being oneself is as important as SAT scores, GPA, or any other metric that funnels the throngs of applicants into a thread of coveted acceptance letters. Highly competitive schools with high performing applicants humanizing their cut-throat admission policies with a warm, fuzzy, encouragement to simply be oneself, and as surely as the sun rises in the east you will shine.
Of course, we have all heard the same messages in our own lives. It’s not a bad message either – to just be yourself. In a day when diversity has become a means of deliverance, individualism has become an art of self-love. Still, one can only play Mirror, Mirror on the Wall for so long without becoming utterly bored or an utterly boring narcissist. Loving others has always been where it’s at – where we truly feel full, alive, and connected. So, yes, be you but don’t be all about you. One of the things I love most about God is he loves unconditionally and universally. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (Galatians 3:28). The world may classify its people into hierarchies, but God has none of that. He made each of us unique and yet loves all of us the same. How fun is that? No competitions or emphasis on what makes you so special. He eliminated that pettiness when he died on the cross for our sins. It was the great leveler that gave each individual that has ever been or ever will be the same unequivocal opportunity for redemption. Of all the world’s laws, treaties, pacts, covenants, and alliances I don’t know any that compares to him dying on the cross so that each and every one of us can have a shot at eternal life.
It’s the Fall of my son’s senior year in high school. The seeds we planted in the blind enthusiasm of grade school, protected from the ambivalence of middle school, and fertilized with a hearty mix of encouragement and extracurriculars through the high school years have culminated into a small crop of college applications, deadlines, and gut-wrenching decisions. Our mailbox is jammed with colorful college brochures, inviting postcards, and glossy magazines that clearly explain the absurd-cost of college. For months, we’ve binged on the propaganda. We’ve made our list. We’ve pared down our list. We’ve reevaluated and we’ve changed it – sometimes all in one day. At times, motivations and decisions seemed logical, and, just as often, the experience has felt more like a diagnosis of insanity than a direction to begin anew.
It’s been exciting, exhausting, and frustrating. There have been hard talks and heartfelt moments of hope. It has brought us closer in ways that feel like a cherished parting gift which right now we have the joy of opening, but will ultimately close this chapter in our lives. Undoubtedly, the best chapter I could hope to write. It is not lost on me that all our efforts, not just to send him off to college, but to prepare him for adulthood, inevitably mean a parting of ways. Every act that brings him closer to his goals is taking me farther from the child I want to hold onto. Yet I know I can’t keep him. He needs to go and I need to let go. It makes me think a lot about what love means. So often, love is more of a surrender than a holding on. Love is another’s heart that we don’t get to keep no matter how much it has imprinted our own. It’s helping someone meet their goals knowing that getting them there will cost a piece of you. It’s explicably worth the sacrifice, the heartache, and the cavernous emptiness that makes you wonder if your heart is imploding. Love is the illogical dying on the cross for unworthy sinners that Jesus endured. It’s letting go of what you want to give someone else a chance at what they want. It’s beautiful and boundless. Despite breaking us into a million pieces, it inevitably makes us more whole.